04 May 2009

Persistence of (inner) vision

Unreal Nature (how appropriate that title is, in an entirely different way from usual, in this context...) has just posted "Visual Lies":

...what we can’t see affects our attitude toward those things — even though that re-presentation is often mostly or entirely fictional. For example, Wikipedia has this illustration of the current H1N1 flu...

I wouldn't go so far as "lies" myself; I prefer metaphors (after all, I deal in constructed metaphoric representations myself – as does Ms Heyward) ... but the essence is undeniable. It extends the signifier/signified confusion in spoken language (about which I've been musing as I frame a reply to "The Russian sense of blueness"), and it does indeed drift into deliberate untruth in areas such as political propaganda or sales advertising.

It interests me how far such presentations are subject to prolonged mental "persistence of vision".

For example ... with my professional head on, I visualise an atom (if at all) as a set of symbolic informational constructs. I have not, for about four and a half decades, believed that an atom is the microscopic solar system with a large raspberry at the centre orbited by assorted peas and blackcurrants on fine wire pathways. And yet ... when I hear the word "atom" in casual conversation during everyday real life, it's the raspberry which comes first to mind.

Chemical structures are another example; "CO2" immediately brings to mind a large black bead with four hooks to which two white balls (two hooks apiece) are linked ... an image of valence bonds offered to me at age thirteen or fourteen.

And viruses? Usually, in my mind, viruses appear as the compact round ended cylinders (rather like seamless medicine capsules) shown in Look and learn, circa 1964.


Julie Heyward said...

I agree that "Visual Lies" is not right -- I wanted a pun and couldn't think of anything else (it's a play on visualise).

Oddly enough, my mental . . . construct? formulation? all of these things is vague at best. I definitely don't have the solar system thing, but I can't seem to get the field/shells thing to go visual.

Those tinker-toy illustrations of large molecules seem completely nonsensical to me. I know they're for explanatory not literal purposes, but there they are.

You seem to have all kinds of colors in your concepts (raspberry, peas, black, white). The vague ether of my imaginings is all blue-gray.

Felix Grant said...

You'll be relieved to hear that I did get the VisuaLise pun! :-)